There is so much unrest in the world today: we are still in two wars, terrorism seems to be endemic worldwide, and domestic violence still dominates the news. We still need to heed the old bumper sticker: TEACH PEACE. The more current one on my car says "Peace is Patriotic."
While it’s easy to talk about, teaching peace isn’t so easy to do. The prerequisite is learning to wage peace in our own lives. "We teach best what we most need to learn," writes Richard Bach in Illusions. That’s because we are subconsciously focused on what gives us trouble; and motivated to learn about it. For example, if lack of peace – anxiety, rage, addiction or relationship hassles – is a problem, your life will constantly face you with the need to learn to be more calm. Anyone who does not meet your expectations can trigger agitation of one sort or another, and internal agitation evokes a negative reaction.
In my counseling office, I’m constantly reminded of how hard it seems to be for most people to sustain peacefulness – what the twelve-step (AA) programs call "serenity." We are all easily bumped off- center. I also see how powerful it is to maintain a peaceful (or serene) emotional climate in the middle of an upsetting circumstance. The calmest person is also the most clear-thinking, and therefore can control what’s happening. People in high-pressure situations, such as medical and military personnel, police, firefighters, and rescue workers are trained in maintaining a calm demeanor. It makes them more effective.
Internal peace is the key to keeping all relationships on track. In my life, I’ve found that keeping my inner balance not only prevents me from making things worse in bad situations, it also influences others to be calmer.
Every day I am reminded of the importance of inner peace, a peaceful relationship with myself, and keeping peace in my private universe. Without this inner serenity, I am not very powerful to create peace in my surrounding environment. I find that whenever I’m agitated, especially when the turmoil seems to be caused by an event or another person, the effective solution begins with establishing peace within myself. Here is the idea I use to help myself and my clients do that:
I have my own sphere of influence, my own private "universe" which I can picture as a invisible, protective membrane surrounding me; rather like the invisible glass box mimes often create around themselves. All other people and events are outside this boundary, but visible and accessible through it. I can "send messages" in the form of words and deeds, subtle body movements and facial expressions, through the boundary, and other people can send theirs in to me. I have little control over what people choose to send toward me, and total control over what I choose to send out. However, I do have control over how I receive what other people choose to send me.
For example, if my husband, Richard sends out some crabbiness, I have very little control over what he says or does. Perhaps he’s annoyed about something that happened in his business, or concerned about someone he cares about, and he feels safe letting his frustration out around me. There is little to be gained from trying to read his mind, or change his attitude. However, if I remember that I am the Highest Power in my own sphere, I have many options.
*I can choose to believe that his crabbiness is something I deserve, and feel hurt.
*I can choose to believe that he sent it because he’s a bad person, and shut down my love for him.
*I can choose to believe that he sent it because of a separate event in his private world, and check to see what’s happening with him, and if I can help.
*I can choose to care for myself, and put some distance between us, until things calm down.
*I can just react without thinking, and not make any choices at all.
Through experience, I soon learn which options give me the results I want. Once I know that, I can choose to repeat successful options at will. Richard has, and often uses, the same options.
The operative word here is choice. As long as I know my response to stimulus is a choice, I can create peace. Once I decide that the atmosphere I most want in my own world is one of peace, then I create the power to insure that.
The question I need to answer is: "What is peace to me?" It is easy, given our social environment, to think that creating peace with others means waging war with myself. For example, I can believe that, to create peace with Richard, I need to deny my own wants and feelings. That sets up an internal fight, which inevitably surfaces externally. Sooner or later I will get angry enough at the (self-imposed) limits to want to get even with him. Or, I will further increase my stress to keep the "peace" and begin to create illness.
Experience has taught me that the only peace that can be safely sustained is peace that begins at home – within the boundaries of my own inner self. Once I have created peace within myself by listening to all sides of the internal struggle, and acknowledging my right to feel all those ways at once, and finding a solution that calms me down, I know what I need to do with the situation that upset me. Then, I’m secure enough to begin to negotiate with who- or whatever my struggle was about. Peace with the other person may take a little effort to achieve, especially if I have a point of view of my own, but it will be lasting, and begins to build the trust necessary to a compatible relationship.
Paradoxically, this is often the easiest way to work toward peace in some ways, and the most difficult in other ways. It’s easy because it requires nothing beyond myself; only mental/emotional work. Difficult because there are many ingrained attitudes, prejudices, and assumptions I must challenge and overcome on the way to internal peace.
The path to peace, inner and outer, is not a direct line with specific steps. It is full of trial and error, wrong turns and delightful discoveries. Sometimes talking with myself is all I need, sometimes it helps to talk it out with a friend, or even a therapist. Sometimes the words of a great teacher help. I like "My religion is simple. My religion is kindness" – Dalai Lama. Or "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." – Psalm 23. Usually my heart knows, better than my head, where the peaceful path lies.
I have chosen to follow a path of peace, internally and externally. This choice shapes all of my subsequent choices, and commits me to a process of self-awareness. To the best of my ability, I make my choices, and check the results with my mind and my heart. I get it wrong often, but I also get it right enough times to make my life much more peaceful; and I am happy, more often that not. When something makes me unhappy, I can find the path to peace more quickly than I used to.
I hope you find this useful on your own path.
© 2009 Tina B.Tessina adapted from: The 10 Smartest Decisions A Woman Can Make Before 40
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. http://www.tinatessina.com is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Her newest books, from Adams Press in 2008: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and Commuter Marriage. She publishes "Happiness Tips from Tina", an e_mail newsletter, and the "Dr. Romance Blog" http://drromance.typepad.com/dr_romance_blog/ and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. Online, she is "Dr. Romance" with columns at Divorce360.com, CougarCandy.com, and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as "Oprah", "Larry King Live" and ABC news. Follow her on www.twitter.com/tinatessina.